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07 October 2009, 12:11

Welte: Netgear "Open source" router not open

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The recently announced Netgear RangeMax WNR3500L, dubbed an "Open Source Linux Router" by Netgear has been criticised for not being sufficiently open. Founder of, Harald Welte, points out in a blog posting that the router ships with binary-only kernel modules and that these modules only work with a Linux 2.4 kernel, such as the Linux 2.4.20 based firmware that Netgear ship with the device.

In the documentation for the router, a number of modules are listed as "pre-compiled" with no source code available. These include the Broadcom Ethernet and Wireless driver, Broadcom IGMP and UPnP support and a pre-compiled version of a httpd server listed as copyright of Jef Poskanzer, author of small web servers. Welte notes that users and developers cannot update the Linux kernel on the router to incorporate the latest security fixes and casts doubt on whether the practice is actually legal. He believes Netgear, as the vendor, is "simply relying on the fact that none of the authors who have written parts of the kernel against which their binary-only module links will ever make copyright claims against them".

The situation appears to be a repeat of the situation that Linksys found themselves in 2003 when the WRT54G firmware was found to include Broadcom's proprietary modules linked to GPL code. Pressure upon Linksys and Cisco eventually saw the WRT54G firmware source code released, which opened the way for the appearance of alternative open source firmware for the WRT54G.


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